Goodbye October, Hello November

I can’t remember when I first hated November. I probably was about seven or eight years old. Suddenly the days became shorter; we got dressed in the dark mornings and had precious little time in the afternoon to do our after school chores when we got home from school.

Twitchell Pond no longer gleamed a brilliant blue with magnificent whitecaps; it turned dark and broody as if to have a tantrum at any given moment. Standing on the shore, the wind whipped the water to sting on my cheeks and I knew what would soon be upon us…old man winter in all its fury.

With the oncoming of winter, the neighbors were hunkering down and were set to “wait it out”. Their firewood was in, quilts back on the beds and soup recipes were abundant.

My Dad loved oyster stew; the rest of the family gagged at the thought, so he was in heaven when Wilmer Bryant sent over extra milk and Ma fixed it just for him. There was nothing as soothing as her corn chowder and fish chowder when there was a distinct coldness in the air..straight from the North!

November was the month I brought out my collection of books. I had read them all but each November they were new to me. Most of my days off from school were spent on the lumpy bed sprawled out deep in thought with the Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew.

School! I hated November for the long brown stockings I had to wear to make sure I didn’t collapse from a cold. I can remember, to this day, how tight and ugly those stockings felt on my legs. It was as though they were in prison, not to be released until spring appeared.

Grammy Martin had her Mason jars on display in her cellar…filled to the top with the vegetables canned earlier. The colors were magnificent. The company was scarce at Grammy and Grampa’s this time of year, so they welcomed anyone who happened to be driving by on weekends.  Gram was busily knitting mittens and hats for all her grandchildren. Christmas was not far away. Her quilting had been put away until she could return to the porch and sew in relative silence during the warmer months.

I never got too excited over Thanksgiving. I think just the cold air wiped out any happy thoughts I might have. Hunting was the top priority this month and although I liked the deer meat, I still felt sad when I saw the dead dear hanging from our apple tree. Of course there was so swinging during November, because our old tire Dad had secured to the tree had to be taken down so there would be room for all the deer that the family shot.

Dad and the older brothers had brought pine boughs from the mountain and laid them around the base of the house. When it snowed the first big storm, it would pack in nicely and insulate us as we had no basement . Dad seldom prepared us for the winter in the category of fire wood. He hauled out a few long trees and left them for Rex to cut up after school ; I helped him when my kitchen chores were done. I never minded chores but I admit we both got a little cranky when the air turned cold and we hurried a bit more to fill the wood box.

The trees were like skeletons with little bony fingers poking toward the sky and most days seemed gray. I loved color and I think that was one reason I did not care for November. It lies in the gray area, unless of course you get a huge snow storm and you were definitely in the white area! Dad loved rainy cold mornings for hunting as he said it was quiet in the woods . If not that, just a cover of snow was excellent for tracking.

When things really got boring , I always hurried to see Grammy Martin . My favorite were her  out of date wallpaper books .  I took them home and cut out dresses to fit my paper dolls, which were cut out of her old Sears catalogs.

Thanksgiving was the bright spot in the month for those who didn’t have to plan around a hunting trip . We could not eat until our hunters came home for their meal or there was a break in their hunting plans. Ma always had the hen from Lester Cole’s , mashed potato, peas, her famous biscuits and for dessert, usually a bowl of red jello which had set outside overnight to make it jiggily! Occasionally she made a pumpkin pie if the stove cooperated.

I still am not fond of November. It has a dampness that seeps into one’s bones and relentless gray days. But it’s all part of the equation, so as my Dad always said, ” You may as well live with it and it only has 30 days.” I must have been whining when he came out with that. Hard to believe, though.

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The Unforgettable Moment

It was a beautiful fall day…the very first part of October. The mountains were a blaze of color in any direction one looked. It was the era of the Fabulous Fifties. I was in high school. and the world was just one fabulous place to be and mine for the taking.  Maybe that will explain why, after 65 years I still vividly recall one of the moments when my head was in the glorious clouds and nowhere was I on earth! I tried to remember this moment when my own teenage daughter did something so in-explainable, it defied words.

But I digress. It was early one Saturday morning and Ma decided she should visit her parents on Rowe Hill. There was nothing I would rather do that see my Grandfather and Grandmother Libby. Their little house set off on a road from Rowe Hill and Grampa built the house himself in 1905.  Ma was born there in 1915, so it was just a place that I, being a loner and nature lover, loved to just walk around outside and explore while she was inside.

This particular day, I wandered to the hen house on the knoll and proceeded to take count of the chickens. Bored with that, I rounded the house and spied Grampa’s apple tree. Now you remember, my Grandfather Martin was highly particular who touched his apple tree. Not so Grampa Libby.  There the tree stood with red apples everywhere..on every limb it seemed. I spotted one that I knew would be the apple of all apples and Grandpa wouldn’t care if I picked it.

Ah! But there was just one problem. I was about 5’6″ tall and this particular apple was about 6″ up in the air. No problem, I thought, as I looked around for something to nudge it off the limb. No sticks anywhere. Ah, but there’s a rock . I can throw a baseball and hit most anything. There’s no reason why I can’t knock that apple off the tree.  Such went the thoughts through my head and out both ears, obviously. Rock in hand, I gave a mighty throw..I would have called it a strike right over the plate.

The sound of shattering glass  echoed through the valley and I stood dumbfounded. I was so intent on getting the shiny prize of an apple I never looked beyond. I had broken one of my Grandparents’ windows. 

Ma blew around the corner as if shot from a cannon and demanded what on earth was going on. There was no explanation. I was just as dumbfounded as she was and there was no way she could even begin to explain her daughter’s behavior. I was sick with shame.

She marched me into the house to face my Grandfather. He smiled and said, “These things happen” which made me feel even worse. I tried to tell him how sorry I was with Ma interjecting( and correctly so) that I was old enough to know better.

In the end, all was ironed out. Ma got Grampa a new window pane and it was put in a couple days later, but the shame of that moment has never left me. It would have felt better, I think, if Grampa had been angry!!

A lesson learned. When  your eye is on a prize you think you can’t live without, take a moment to look beyond and see how your getting it might affect others.  I didn’t for that two second moment back in 1953 and it still smarts!

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AlMOST A CHRISTENING

It was way back in the Sixties…and the Martin family was still reeling from the unexpected death of my Dad in late 1966. We were all keeping an eye on my mother, although each morning she pulled her whole 4’10” frame behind the wheel of the car and set off to work at Ekco Housewares.

Winter morphed into summer and the little three room house began to show signs of renovations. Ma obtained the services of Charlie Day, the neighbor right down the road, to build an addition on the back of the house where she planned to have a furnace installed. Yes! After years of plugging wood into the old heater, she would be able to flip a switch or a twist of the thermostat and have instant gratification! I had no idea that Ma had a list of three “luxuries” she wanted and found that there was enough insurance money left from my Dad’s services to provide them.

The furnace was installed and I’ll add now that Jake McAllister and Mellen Kimball came often to allay any nervousness on Ma’s part. She wasn’t sure if the motor sounded right; was the motor supposed to come on that often??… her second luxury was now on the wall and she called either Jake or Mellen who reassured her immediately or would come immediately to calm her fears. Bless those two men!

But wait for it….her third “luxury” was –ta da!–a new bathroom. There would be no more shoveling a path to the edge of the woods; no more freezing to the wooden seat in January. It was almost beyond her imagination, but strangely, enough, she said very little about this accomplishment which puzzled me.

I have no idea whose idea it was at the time, but am pretty sure it was Martha who decided we should have a “shower” for the new bathroom. After all, hadn’t it been forever that the family of six had all marched to that little building out back? This was a happening.

And so it was that one Sunday afternoon, my three sisters-in-law, Sylvia, Donna, Martha and I, one by one, drove into her yard. We approached the house with wrapped gifts in hand and found Ma, sitting at the table sipping a cup of tea.

“What on earth?” she exclaimed ( her favorite phrase).

“We’ve come to christen the new bathroom,” said one or all of us. There was a shower curtain, towels, bathroom brush, and I remember bringing a round hamper which would not take up much space. Everything was in blue and at this point Ma would not have cared if they were orange, so surprised she was.

You had to know my Ma. She was not accustomed to being gifted with much of anything and I think the most she could say, “Oh for heavens sakes”.  The new little bathroom just fairly gleamed as we put everything in place.

Because of our work schedules, it was seldom all of us assembled in one place at one time, so that added to the atmosphere. Sipping tea, nibbling on cookies from Ma’s secret jar and exchanging news soon had Ma relaxing and enjoying the whole afternoon.

Lacking a bottle of champagne, ( and where would we have smashed it?), we never did officially christen the new bathroom, but by the look in Ma’s eyes when we left, she was one happy woman.  I figured she was thinking about being inside and the snow drifts outside in the oncoming winter.

Heat with a flip, a phone for emergencies and a bathroom that required no shoveled path.  I have never seen Ma any happier than that Sunday.

 

 

 

 

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September is closing in and I can see clear to Indian Pond now; in the early morning I see the smoke from the Hanscom homestead chimney rise into the air. It is the time of year when the morning’s chill has to be eased with a small wood fire. I have the Ashley wood heater going in the kitchen and soon the warmth will spread as the kids rush down the stairs to catch the early morning school bus.

Soon they will be off and I will hold down the fort with the animals. It’s strange how I go from day to day concentrating on the inside of the farm, but not really noticing what is going on outside. Many a time I have glanced through the kitchen window and seen a new beast and wondered when it appeared on the range. It was as though Noah rounded up all the animals two by two, but there were spares and they landed in our pasture.

There was Toby, the horse, who came to live on the farm. Brian rode him the most, I think. I just know one day when we woke, he was lying on his side in the field behind the house, never to be ridden again. What about the day I arrived home from the grocery store to find the lamb..well, at that point a full grown sheep…lying on his side on the front lawn..never to bleat again.  One of my favorites was Jack, the burro. We even had a little saddle for him and somewhere there is a glorious photo of my standing next to Jack. I was wearing a very popular 1960’s paper dress. I know I never got on Jack’s back but guess I liked him well enough to have a photo taken with him. Same thing. Got up one morning and he was in the back yard as well.

By now, you are wondering what kind of curse existed around the old farm? I believe there had to be some poisonous plant the animals ate which must have killed them. I have no idea and at that time, we never thought of autopsies. I just knew every time another animal went down, I had four kids who were in the throes of grief for quite some time. Why none of the cows kicked up their hooves and perished is beyond me. But then, probably knowing cows, their stomachs are cast iron. (No, I don’t like cows..have I mentioned that?)

If there were one visitor to the farm I wish would kick up his spurs and die, it was the miserable old rooster. Now this bird came to the farm in a far more attractive state.  A friend asked if I had room for a little colored chick at Easter. Well, yes, what was one little chicken in all the flurry of our every day living. But that little colored chick slowly morphed into a big feathered bird from hell…The kids gave it a name, which I forget. Frankly, I had names for it and hopefully the kids never heard me when it was uttered.

I remember the evening the husband was gone and for some reason, I thought I should take something to the cows. I meandered out there, breathing in the sweet air of the mountain with my head somewhere in the clouds, delivered whatever I was carrying and was on my way back to the house, still with my head in the clouds. Out of nowhere I heard a screaming noise and suddenly I had a rooster attached to the back of one leg and he was hanging on with his spur. I screamed, danced a jig to rid myself of the crazed feathers to no avail. This was pure pain. In desperation, I grabbed a stick by the path and tried beating him off…I probably whacked him a dozen times and I guess the spur got tired or he became unhinged.  I had a bloody leg to show for it and swore if it happened again, I personally would do him in. He contributed nothing to the farm. I can’t remember that he even crowed to wake us up in the morning. A parasite with feathers, I always thought. I prayed for that rooster to be on his side some morning when I awoke. It never happened. We don’t have that rooster any more. I don’t know what happened to him and I don’t care. That was the end of my good deed of adopting Easter chicks.

Cats! Oh, Lord, we have barn cats. I have almost lost count of how many we have. Some come in the house to eat; others stay outside most of the time. They’re good company…don’t say much and don’t argue back. Occasionally I get a dirty look and a couple might get to a hair raising stage, but no fights.

So it is peaceful this September day. The house is quiet with all the kids gone and time passes slowly, it seems, until I get accustomed to their leaving. It is an early morning for them, having to be at the bus stop before seven. Around three this afternoon, I will be watching as they come up the hill, school papers waving in their hands to show me and tales of the day.

The dog will bark her welcome; the farm will come alive again.

 

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ANOTHER HOT DAY ON THE HILL

It is another hot, humid day here on the Hill. Trees are standing like soldiers on review, branches listless in the  still air. Great haying weather, if one doesn’t melt. After work, the husband will take the boys and travel to High Street in West Paris, where he has agreed to hay a field for someone.

The only air conditioning is the screen door and one gets a brief wave of relief when one of the kids runs in or out, banging the door as he goes…followed by a too-late “Don’t slam the door” warning from me.

The Cushman bakery truck was here earlier and that broke up the day a little. The raspbery tarts are a must and Vance Bacon is the driver now. He is more than patient as the kids decide what the treat of the week will be.  You may have surmised that very little traffic is directed up the hill to the farm.

Last week, Francis Brooks came with his array of salt and pepper shakers, gifts of all kinds  and even cooking spices. Mark, my nephew stays with us during the day in the summer. He wandered over to the table and looked at all the display Francis had laid before our eyes. He whispered he would like to buy a set of salt and peppers for his Mom. Hmm, I thought, what a thoughtful little fellow! They were a dollar for the set so I told him to pick out what he thought his Mom would like. Took him no time at all. He chose two little mice and yes, they were very cute. I paid and put them in a bag for Mark to take home that evening.  After Francis left, I told Mark how thoughtful he was to think of his Mom and asked if she would like the set he chose. I have never seen such a devilish grin in my life before or since…”Oh yeah,” he exclaimed, “she is scared to death of mice.” What to do! I shook my head and when his Dad came to pick him up, he climbed into the truck, clutching his precious purchase in his hand. I have no idea what happened that night when he presented his gift, but fifty years later his Mom and I still laugh about her son’s thoughtfulness.

I spent another morning raking up the hay leavings in the lower field. I try to do it as soon as the dew is off and before the heat of the day sets in. I was disappointed in the field strawberries this year. Usually, up on top the pasture hill, there is a great patch and many a time I’ve spent on my knees patiently filling a little pail. Not so many this year and folks say it is the dry weather. Maybe so. Takes forever and then to hull them..one wonders if it is worth it as they are so tiny, but you will never get the sweetness from a cultivated berry that you do with the tiny field berries.

In a few months it will be butchering time again. This isn’t one of my favorite times of year and we pretty much shield the whole procedure from the kids. I can’t say I am sorry to see the pig leave. He is nothing but trouble, getting out all the time, no matter how secure his pen. Pounding on his feed pail with a stick does  not do the trick. One got out and climbed all over Christopher Mountain before my kids organized a pig hunting party, to which their father joined after work. Right before nightfall, the pig was put back in its pen with someone holding him by his hind legs and the pig squealing so loud one would think it was dying right then and there.

A lot of kids ride up to the farm on their bikes from the village. I took a picture one day of ten bikes parked out front. It’s a good thing I have a big pitcher with a smiley face on it and plenty of Kool-Aid. By the afternoon, everyone has a mustache of one color or another as I keep replenishing the cups. The kids entertain themselves and usually its a ball game in the lower field now the hay is cut.

This summer has been a long one, it seems. Farm work is never done..if you hay, have a garden etc. The kids are in no hurry to go back to school. They find something to do every day from walking the fields, to playing with their trucks, music, reading, digging in old dump sites. Of course we have our casualties. I estimate at least one kid will have stitches from one cut or another during the season. I guess that goes with this kind of life. The doctors know me well now and if they see a car with tires blowing smoke turning into their parking lot, I swear they just dig out the needle and thread.

Only once did Ma come to the rescue. I mean, only once did I ask her. She rescued me several times. Debbie was four years old and riding a tricycle at a neighbor’s home when a dog bit her eye brow almost off. She did not do a thing to the dog, so the owner said, but apparently it was not a good day for the dog. I was working and Ma took her to Dr. Nangle , who sewed her eyebrow back on…and I am betting now people know why she has worn bangs most of her life!

Oh, so many accidents during those summer months while growing up. But, you know, I would not trade the farm for any where else in the world to raise kids…they have fields to run, kites to fly, trucks to haul in the dirt pile, trees to climb…

Dirt to get on everything, trees to fall from, stone walls to land on…life gets so exciting sometimes here on the hill.

Time for me to see if I can open one of these old windows and let the air conditioning in a bit more~~

 

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Stolen Moments

It is late August here on the farm.  The crickets lull us to sleep at night and heavy fog introduces us to most days.  I’ve taken the four kids to JJNewberry’s in Norway and got the usual pencil boxes and school supplies. It won’t be long now before they will be rising early in the morning to trudge down the hill to the bus “stop”.  Earlier I ordered their clothes from Alden’s Catalog, with each one telling me the color he preferred.  Right now, Alan and Gary are off digging in one of the many dump sites on the land ( looking for bottles, I am told), Debbie is in her room reading and Brian is once again trying to do damage control in my little flower bed from the onslaught of cow hooves.

As I’ve said before, cows and I have never been on a friendly basis. I’ll admit to admiring one little Jersey cow that Brian had, as it was quiet and had a pretty face. The others just wander around on gawky legs, chewing the cud and breaking down fences. I have never seen an animal as stubborn as a cow.

I’m not the only one! No siree! Ma is not fond of them at all. I remember her trying to take clothes off the line one day, just trying to help me, minding her own business and out came a cow..right through the fence..toward her. Well, let me tell you, she not only dislikes them, she is afraid of them. Looking quickly about her, she found the only weapon available to ward off the beast. She stood, shrieking, holding a ladder from the back of the boys’ big fire truck. Ma stared the cow down, who was just chewing and standing there, and finally after a couple cracks on the backside from the fire engine ladder, it turned and ambled back across the downed fence. Have you ever noticed that cows just amble?  They have that superior attitude that almost amazes me and infuriates at the same time.

The plum tree didn’t do much this year..maybe a half dozen, but it has been said the old tree is forever old and can’t be expected to gift us with much.  The apple tree in the front yard serves as just that: one points out that we have an apple tree in our front yard. There has never been an apple from those limbs that one could take and declare delicious. I remember a few years ago gathering some and making apple sauce. I think it must have taken a pound of sugar to make it edible.

The potatoes were good this year and after they were dug and dried in the sun, the kids and I filled a spot in the cellar, so we should be fixed for the winter.  We had our fill of cukes and peas. The hail storm earlier in the summer got a lot of tomatoes, but we had enough to satisfy us all. There were so many green tomatoes left that last week I brought a bunch in to make green tomato pickles. One night I dug out the big container and made layers of the pickles, onions, etc. and let it set overnight. The next day the smell was heavenly and the old farm just about raised from its footings. I could eat a dish of them with bread and butter and call it a meal.

Soon the leaves will start changing and as I look down towards Indian Pond, I know there will be a blaze of beauty and slowly the leaves will blow off , leaving us a bleak mountain for a few months.

I like sitting here on the porch and mulling over the summer events..not that much happens here on the hill. Yet, when you’re on a farm, something does happen every day.  My cheese cloth strainer is blowing on the porch line next to me. It is a constant reminder of my 5 a.m. rising and waiting for the husband to bring the morning’s milk. While he is in the barn, I fix his breakfast and when the milk comes in, I switch gears to automatic and strain all the milk and get it in bottles. Raw milk! The kids drink it and I use it for everything but I read so much material that it is bad for drinking etc. Well, the kids seem healthy and the Lord knows I sterilize everything I use. So far, so good. I wonder if we believed everything written if we would dare get out of bed in the morning.

Yesterday, I took the old pick up down in the lower field and raked up hay the husband had cut. One look at the sky and I thought we might have rain. After I raked it, I pitched it on the back of the truck, praying I wouldn’t have a snake slither out. My prayers were answered and I backed the old truck , full of hay, into the garage for the husband to pitch off when he finds the time.

I hate to think of winter coming. It’s hard to heat the old farm with all its drafty corners and windows that have loosened over the years. Someone told me that my Grandfather Libby helped plaster and lathe the walls when the farm was built. That could be. I wish he had put in a lot of insulation at the same time.

The old wood furnace in the cellar must have come over on the Mayflower. It is a huge thing, and I have to be careful not to let the fire blaze too much as the chimney goes straight through the attic. Usually my brothers and friends help cut up the fire wood for the winter and the boys carry it in after school to fill the wood box. After that, the never ending chore of watering the cows awaits them. I fill the pails and they carry along the snowy path I’ve shoveled while they are in school.

But enough thinking of the winter ahead! Today the sky is a bright blue with one cloud resembling Richard Nixon and that seems to drift at a slow pace today. It is about 78 degrees with a light breeze kissing my face every few minutes.

It is stolen moments like this that keeps the spirit going.

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When Johnny Comes Marching Home

It is the mid-sixties and Rowe Hill is still the sleepy little hamlet. Wilmer Bryant milks his cows morning and night; Eunice Brooks makes her delicious butter every week; Winnie Hanscom and I exchange news and recipes on the telephone. Sun comes up in the morning and goes down in the evening and so the days go.

It is a different story outside our little world; the war in Viet Nam is raging and several of our young men from the village of Bryant Pond are in that country, so unlike their little home town.

Every morning the children of Rowe Hill gather at the rustic “bus stop” at the bottom of our driveway, awaiting the bus to carry them away for another day at the local schools. Among them are the “kids” from on top of the hill, who have to walk the distance no matter the weather.  One of the “kids” is older than the others, but he seems to delight in standing with the youngsters. My four come home with tales of “John saying this ” and “John saying that” and particularly, in the winter time, how he divides the kids into teams for snowball fights before the bus arrives. Oh, it is so much more fun now that John is waiting at the bus stop with them each day.

This was pretty much the same conversation each day upon their arrival home. Then came the time when one of the four remarked, “John isn’t at the bus stop any more.” I figured perhaps he had moved or had decided not to attend school any more and let it pass in the business of the day. The second time it was mentioned I asked if anyone knew where John had gone. “Oh, he went in the Army,”  one offered.

Not another one, I voiced silently. Later on,over the crank phone I consulted with Winnie down over the hill, who confirmed that she had heard John had enlisted. 

Months passed, another school year gone and September rolled around again. The questions began. “Do you think John will be at the bus stop this year?”  “I don’t think so.” Then a chorus of “why?” echoed around the farm kitchen.

This was new territory for me. I could explain pretty much any farm life questions, but how to explain why their friend was still away. I tried but there were still four concerned faces when they left for school that first morning.

Gradually the questions faded; another year went by and apparently the four had decided that John left and would never be there for another snowball fight. Meanwhile, the little hamlet was whispering that John was missing in action in Viet Nam. At this point, the four had grown to an age where they understood what it meant to be at war and that John was fighting, and so I broke the news to them gently and told them we had to pray that he would be coming home soon.

Months roll into years; years into decades and I never heard the status of John…was he still missing; had he been killed…who knew.

Fast forward forty years.  Alan, the youngest of the four, traveled with his step-father to Washington, DC, to see the Fourth of July fireworks. As always, when they traveled, they sought out other interesting things.

Two days after returning home, Alan came to me. “We visited the Viet Nam Wall, Mum.” 

I asked what his impression was of the Wall. “I found him, I found John.” It took a minute for me to comprehend what he was saying. ” I found his name, Mum.  John Brooks. I found John.”

The grown man had not forgotten. He found his childhood friend at last…among so many other names on the Wall. Johnny would never come marching home, but he stayed in the hearts of everyone who knew him.

(I never knew the official ending to John’s story. I do know that for years relatives could not find out what happened to him. May he rest in peace.)

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